Waiting for My Real Life
April 6-9, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
April 11, noon
James Island 8
1743 Central Park Road
The April 6 premiere of the documentary Waiting for My Real Life in Charleston closes a loop for Michael and Jonathan Harrison, the father-and-son filmmaking team at Corazon Productions.
In 2008, their documentary — two years in production and $300,000 in the hole — was staring into the abyss of obscurity until an honorable mention at the Myrtle Beach International Film Festival in December reversed their fortunes. Four months later, the Harrisons' documentary is set to open across the country in the final slot of the first six-picture Carmike Independent Film Series.
"So it all started in South Carolina," says Jonathan, who credits Jerry Dalton, an indie whirlwind from Horry County. Dalton is both the driving force behind Myrtle Beach's festival and the negotiator who put together the Carmike deal.
Waiting for My Real Life is the only documentary in the series, and while a 94-city North American opening isn't a big deal by Hollywood standards, Waiting will likely receive wider distribution in its first week than most independent documentaries ever receive.
Like the multi-city opening, the Harrisons' film represents an unlikely series of events. Intrigued by the story of Jeremy Norman, an 800-pound Midwestern invalid who had connected to a worldwide audience via YouTube, the Canadian filmmakers traveled from the west coast to Ohio to begin their interviews in December 2007.
Norman, who suffered from a condition that turned everything he ate into fat, had gained more than 200 pounds while waiting for gastric bypass surgery. By the time the Harrisons reached him, he had lost about 400 pounds, but chronic obesity had taken its toll. On Dec. 27, 2007, five days after the they completed shooting, Norman's heart gave out. He was 23.
"I think what changed the film was that we all thought Jeremy Norman was going to live," Jonathan says.
Says Michael, a veteran of the Australian Broadcasting Company, "It moved us, and when filmmakers get moved by their subject, it comes across on the screen.
"This is a really serious problem. We have become the fattest nation in the world, and in 20 or 30 years, if we don't do something to change it, the medical bills will be too vast for North Americans to pay for them."
So yes, Waiting for My Real Life is a documentary about the politics of food and health, but as Jonathan put it, "You can't exactly be inspired by talking heads. People gravitated to Jeremy Norman. In the end, it's people's stories that interest us."
The other underdog in this story is Dalton, who learned a big lesson from years of indie frustration: "The main thing is distribution. You can make the best movie in the world, but if you can't get it distributed, it sits on the shelf."
His idea of an independent film series — providing Carmike theaters with one independent film per week, each with $5 tickets — seems to be working out. Dalton said the movie chain has already re-upped for a second six-movie series this fall, and he's back in the market for content.
"I feel like, if you've done a decent project, you deserve a shot. Then let the market decide, not the seven major studios."